Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan snubs the law

In his latest move towards autocracy, Turkey’s president has vowed to ignore the country’s Constitutional Court after it ruled to release two imprisoned journalists, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Several weeks ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in that terse and gruff way he has when responding to criticism or things he does not like to hear, said his Turkey is a country ruled by law and that those who reside on its territory should bear this in mind and stay out of affairs that do not concern them.

He was alluding to foreign ambassadors and, in particular, the US Ambassador to Ankara John Bass. It was a verbal rebuff to those who continually criticise certain actions by the courts which, on that occasion, Erdogan described as “independent”.

In Erdogan’s lexicon, the judiciary is being “independent” when it issues rulings he likes and pursues those whom he has pledged to punish, as was the case with Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and his colleague, the paper’s Ankara representative, Erdem Gül, who were arrested and tossed into Silivri Prison three months ago.

But as Erdogan has a memory that appears ruled by convenience and as he himself is given to overstepping the bounds of his constitutional authorities (which are still largely honorary), not to mention the bounds of propriety, in his ongoing and relentless drive to tailor the law, the constitution and the system of government according to his whims, it should come as no surprise that several months later he would lash out at that same judiciary.

Two weeks ago, Dündar and Gül were released after a Constitutional Court ruled that their imprisonment was a violation of their rights. “I do not respect the ruling. I’m not going to abide by it,” Erdogan proclaimed at a press conference a day or two later, just before he set off from Ataturk Airport in Istanbul for a tour of three West African countries.

In a desperate attempt to subdue the outcry at home and astonished reactions from abroad, the official government spokesman and Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said that Erdogan had only been voicing his personal opinion, as is everyone’s right. But days later, Erdogan effectively belied the spokesman’s statement in remarks that implied he had, in fact, meant every word of what he had said in that press conference.

Erdogan said, referring to the court, that it was “not I, but they who, most regretfully, violated the constitution.” He added: “However, [the court’s ruling] doesn’t mean that the [legal] process is over. The prosecutor may object the decision and an upper court may start a new process [for their detention again]. Then our duty is to observe the [new] legal process.”

In what will most likely be his last column for Zaman newspaper, in view of the Erdogan-orchestrated government seizure of Turkey’s best-selling daily last week, Ömer Nurettin spoke of “words that reveal the mentality that controls Turkey but does not govern it”.

He wrote: “When you govern, you observe the constitution and the laws that form a system for managing the affairs of the country. But when you are a controller, then this is exactly what your rhetoric will sound like, a rhetoric that does not recognise laws and constitutional institutions, one that only sees the sole ‘Zaim’, the inspirational leader and the master of his will whose word, alone, reigns supreme.” Accordingly, Nurettin continues, the Turkish people should soon expect an amendment to the law governing the Constitutional Court so as to prohibit it from opposing the “supreme will”.

In fact, in a lecture at Bilkent University in Ankara, Bülent Arinç, former deputy prime minister and a cofounder of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), did not rule out such a possibility in order to clip the wings of Turkey’s highest judicial authority. As Nurettin wrote, “In the AKP state, which is actually the president’s state, opponents will be branded as traitors and spies and they will cast into prison for the rest of their lives.”

The Zaman columnist went on to predict a renewed government assault and the return of Dündar and Gül to their cells in the high-security Silivri Prison. “At a moment when everyone had thought that the judiciary and the scale of justice in the country had been warped or buried and could never be set aright, the judiciary showed that it was still alive and kicking,” wrote Nurettin. “This is why it has to be it has to be buried for good.”

Striking the iron while it was hot, Turkish Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdağ (an ardent Erdogan loyalist and vehement opponent of the Constitutional Court) announced that the public prosecutor would open investigations into 2,000 people accused of insulting Erdogan since he became president a year and a half ago.

The list of alleged Erdogan insulters features an amazing assortment of backgrounds (they range from journalists, to cartoonists, to university scholars and high school students, and they range in age from the juvenile to the elderly). Bozdağ said that his ministry has permitted 1,845 cases to proceed and the rest will follow soon.

As for the delicate butt of all those stinging insults, he has continued with his rounds of meetings with village mukhtars and mayors in his elegant if controversial presidential palace, preparatory to a tour of meetings, rallies and public speeches to convince the people of the merits of conversion from a parliamentary to a presidential system.

Contrary to statements made by AKP spokesmen, Erdogan has not ruled out the possibility of early elections, which he has foremost in mind in order to secure the parliamentary majority needed for the required constitutional amendment. He is encouraged by prognoses from his advisors who tell him that the popularity of the ultra-right National Movement Party (MHP) is declining.

If the country were to head to the polls for a third round of general elections in less than a year, they say that the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) will probably not succeed in crossing the 10 per cent parliamentary threshold again.

The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is certain that the Turkish president will not realise his autocratic dream. Addressing his words to Erdogan, CHP leader Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu said: “You will never become a president under a presidential system and you will drown in the blood of this people.” He added that due to the AKP’s “bankrupt” management, “Turkey is facing the worst crisis in its history since World War II.”

Kiliçdaroğlu’s confidence that Erdogan will not have his way, despite the calculated way that he plunged his country into a bloodbath, is not based on thin air. Public opinion is seething and even the corridors of the ruling AKP hum with nervous discussions on what the country has come to as a result of the current policies. Instead of changing policies they speak of the need to change the tenor of rhetoric.

Much of the language used by government leaders, not just against the opposition parties but against other segments of society, has been extremely polarising. Erdogan’s hateful and bellicose rhetoric is well known, but now his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, is trying to keep up. This, to some of the more level-headed members of the AKP, is not good for the party and its relationship with the public at home, or good for Turkey and its relationships with other countries abroad.

Former Education Minister Hüseyin Çelik, one of the AKP’s founders, says that government officials in Turkey have been infected by the “Third World conspiracy virus”. When everything is going well and there is progress they boast, “We made this success.” But when the situation turns bad and things deteriorate, they turn their fingers elsewhere and say that this is the diabolical work of foreign powers, their proxies at home and that “parallel structure,” referring to supporters of the Muslim preacher and ex-Erdogan ally and mentor Fethullah Gülen.

Çelik added, in the weekly article he posts on his personal webpage, that after all the strenuous efforts that Turkey exerted to emerge from the Third World cycle, the “conspiracy” complex, the trademark of a Third World regime, has begun to reassert itself.

“If we slip on a banana skin and fall we say, ‘The Americans or British did this!’ And if a meteor drops on us from the heavens above we say, ‘Foreign forces did this to us on purpose.’”

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